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Metaphor, Memory, Myth: Recasting Partition as in Salil Choudhury, Manas Ray, Helene Cixous

It was only in the 1980s that the pall of silence that had stifled the recounting of Partition experiences appeared to break. Different types of recollections and articulations began to appear in different media along with debates and discussions. This paper studies three texts: a short story by Salil Choudhury titled 'The Dressing Table' (1947) that memorialises the aftermath of the communal riots of 1946; a memoir by Manas Ray titled 'Growing Up Refugee' (2002) that encapsulates the sentiments of the survivors of the post-Partition violence who were forced to flee their homes to seek "refuge" elsewhere and a play by Helene Cixous titled L`Indiade ou l`Inde de leurs rêves (1987), which reflects upon "the paradoxes of fidelity" made apparent by the political crisis of the Partition.

SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly72…You cannot buy knowledge and carry it away in another vessel;when you have paid for it you must receive it into the soul and go on your way, either greatly harmed or greatly benefited.– Socrates in Plato’s Protagoras.The terrifying knowledge of the violent events that preceded and followed the Partition of India stunned the people of the two countries into a silence that lasted several decades. Only in the 1980s did the pall of silence that had stifled the re-counting of the experiences of the Partition seem to break. Dif-ferent types of recollections and articulations began to appear in different media along with debates and discussions about them. The slow recovery from the shocked stupor that lasted sev-eral decades led to the emergence of narratives that recall and historicise the experience of that terrible chapter of the past.1 As Hayden White has argued, history is crafted in the manner of a narrative; any account of the past can therefore add to and enrich a historical discourse. Such “crafting” of history, Dipesh Chakra-varty adds, “has enriched the discipline for a long time by chal-lenging historians to be imaginative and creative both in their research and narrative strategies” (2006: 230). But according to Chakravarty, the critically important point is that the authorial position must be rationally defensible (he explains that 0 mad-man’s narrative nor a totally arbitrary record is acceptable as his-tory) (p 230). Therefore, to claim a respectable place within the discipline, a narrative must manifest an investment in a certain kind of rationality in the particular understanding of the “real”. It is to be hoped, then, that the recounting of trauma that was caused by the politics of hatred and divisive communalism of the Partition through “crafted” narratives is understood to represent the “real” in a manner that is “imaginative and creative” yet “ra-tional” enough to be considered historically acceptable. It is also hoped that the recasting of the experiential trauma will bear a hu-mane purpose of serving as a deterrent to history repeating itself. Amartya Sen emphasises the futility of trying to Partition selves into communal identities by negating shared pasts. He says, “many of the conflicts and barbarities in the world are sustained through the illusion of a unique and choiceless identity” (2006: xv). Understandably, the result of “constructing” singular identi-ties by promoting a “solitarist approach to human identity” and effacing the inherent plurality of personhood has invariably been “elemental violence or globally artful violence and terrorism” (Sen ibid : xv). Gurucharan Das (2003) recalls, “…I was only four years old when Partition took place, but even as a child in Lahore I could tell that our newly devised Hindi identity had redefined our Muslim friends as enemy in 1947” (np). Metaphor, Memory, Myth: Recasting Partition as in Salil Choudhury, Manas Ray, Helene CixousTutun MukherjeeIt was only in the 1980s that the pall of silence that had stifled the recounting of Partition experiences appeared to break. Different types of recollections and articulations began to appear in different media along with debates and discussions. This paper studies three texts: a short story by Salil Choudhury titled ‘The Dressing Table’ (1947) that memorialises the aftermath of the communal riots of 1946; a memoir by Manas Ray titled ‘Growing Up Refugee’ (2002) that encapsulates the sentiments of the survivors of the post-Partition violence who were forced to flee their homes to seek “refuge” elsewhere and a play by Helene Cixous titled L`Indiade ou l`Inde de leurs rêves (1987), which reflects upon “the paradoxes of fidelity” made apparent by the political crisis of the Partition. Tutun Mukherjee ( is at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200873The first spate of Partition related violence began on August 16, 1946 earmarked by the Muslim League as the Direct Action Day when the country’s division on religious lines was being contem-plated. Following the Partition came the communal panic which prevailed in the two newly carved nation states leading to mass exodus from one to the other. The two large Indian states disse-cted were Bengal and Punjab which experienced unprecedented violence. In Ashis Nandy’s words, “The slow, painful process of dismantling British India began with the great Calcutta riots and ended with the genocide in Punjab” (2002: 14). The degree and intensity of violence that was unleashed, the communal riots that ensued and the atrocities committed remain unparalleled in the history of the land.1 IntroductionThis paper studies three texts: a short story by Salil Choudhury titled ‘The Dressing Table’ (1947) that memorialises the after-math of the communal riots of 1946; a memoir by Manas Ray titled ‘Growing Up Refugee’ (2002) that encapsulates the senti-ments of the survivors of the post-Partition violence who were forced to flee their homes to seek “refuge” elsewhere; and a play by Helene Cixous titledL`Indiade ou l`Inde de leurs rêves (The Indiade or India of Their Dreams) (1987), which reflects upon “the paradoxes of fidelity” made apparent by the political crisis of the Partition. The first two texts focus on Calcutta, which attracted a huge number of “refugees” from the region of “East Bengal” that was to become the new “East Pakistan” (now Bangladesh) with a Muslim majority. “Pakistan” had come to mean for the Hindus as Joya Chatterji (1995, 2004) puts it, “the permanent loss of political sovereignty and their subjection to the will of the Muslim majority” (p 232). This fear was aggravated by the crude and heavy-handed measures adopted by the Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy ministry in Bengal in its first few months of office in 1946. The Hindus began to fear that Suhrawardy, a Muslim League politician, was working towards severing entire Bengal away from India. This was the immediate con-text in which the Great Calcutta Killings took place on August 16, 1946.2 It is important to bear in mind, however, that the ri-oting that led to the death of at least 5,000 people was “not a spontaneous and inexplicable outburst of aggression by face-less mobs” [Chatterji: 232]. The horrifying incidents were the ultimate result of a long and a steady escalation of political tensions that none of the political parties cared to quell or control. Indeed, people like Suhrawardy have been accused of takingadvantage of the volatile situation and fanning incendi-ary sentiments. Hence, like the innumerableriotsandpolitical disturbancesthatpost-independenceIndia has and continues to witness on a regular basis, the instigators of the Calcutta riots were well prepared and ready for the bloodletting; but perhaps the intensity of the riots that ensued had not been imagined. According to Nandy,In many ways, he [Suhrawardy] had precipitated the riots, not per-haps because he wanted a bloodbath but because his constituency was mainly immigrant non-Bengali labourers, the lower middle classes and the lumpen proletariat. This support base was a potent political force but was always volatile and uncontrollable, always waiting to be hijacked for violent causes. Suhrawardy had to depend on them and on his populist and demagogic skills because he was an aristocratic Urdu speaking Bengali leader coming from an illustrious cultivated family that had no knowledge of the predominantly peasant commu-nities of Bengali Muslims…My suspicion is that he wanted controlled mayhem, to show his power to the British authorities, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League leadership. It turned out to be a full scale massacre (2002: 18). Four days after the killings, The Statesman, August 20, 1946 reported (cited by Chatterji: 232): This is not a riot. It needs a word from medieval history, a fury. Yet, ‘fury’ sounds spontaneous and there must have been some delibera-tion and organisation to set this fury on its way… To many others, it was like witnessing a civil war: “There was a cold-blooded killing. The riot was well organised on both sides…” (quoted by Chatterji 232). Suhrawardy’s culpability may be a well known fact;3but several Hindu organisations were involved too in mobilising their cadres for the free-for-all killing and looting. Thousands were killed and when order was finally restored, more than 3,000 bodies lay on the pavements of the ‘City of the Dread-ful Night’. The government estimated clearing 3,174 bodies and since it was difficult to arrange suitable disposal, putting them into mass graves or pyres. Social-psychologist Nandy analyses the reasons for stoking communal violence and using the poor of the urban slums as the agents: …Calcutta riots reconfirmed that while the poor as a class may not be prone to bigotry, urban slums are often the first to embrace compen-satory or defensive idea of generic community offered by fanatics and demagogues. The slums are the natural bastions of the people with brokencommunitytiesand nostalgic memories of faith grounded in such ties. When they develop new loyalties in the cities, there is a touch of desperation in these loyalties and a different kind of ardour associated with them. These new loyalties are them systematically endorsed by fearful, prosperous members of the same community, themselves unwilling to risk their lives, but willing to fight for their faith to the last slum-dweller (p 18).Though the Calcutta riots did start in the slum areas and con-centrated on adjoining localities, it quickly spread through the city and no neighbourhood was spared. Just when calm was returning to Calcutta, rumours of riots in Noakhali and Sylhet in East Bengal began to filter in. Although Calcutta, exhausted and traumatised, did not react as violently, repercussions reported from Bihar were not entirely unexpec-ted because mob frenzy that spreads like forest fire is difficult to contain. The Calcutta and Bihar riots were decidedly brutal but they paled before the carnage that overtook Punjab in August 1947.2 SalilChoudhurySalil Choudhury’s story ‘The Dressing Table’ has as its context the 1946 Calcutta riots. The terrible incidents are recalled in a poign-ant but simply told story through four letters in a flashback mode. The framing story introduces a poet struggling to make a living in the metropolis in the post-independence era. Awaiting him in their suburban home is his loving wife Nanda whose only demand is that when they set up their home in the city, he should buy hera dressing table. But when they do start their household in a
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly74one-room tenement with a tin roof in the downmarket neighbour-hood of Kasba, they barely have enough money for subsistence. Generous Nanda puts all thoughts about the dressing table out of her mind. One day by sheer chance the impecunious poet finds a dressing table being sold on the pavement. It is second-hand fur-niture but in good condition. He is able to buy it for a small sum and delightfully takes it home for his wife. His rapturous wife spends the entire afternoon in front of the surprise gift. The dressing table symbolises the fulfilment of her dreams. The poet falls asleep gazing at her happily. When he awakes, however, he finds his wife in tears. Nanda asks him to immediately return thedressing table and hands him a packet of four letters that she has discovered in one of the drawers. The four letters written by one Rahimuddin Choudhury to his wife Amina convey a heart-warming story of another young couple. It records an artist’s travel to the metropolis in search for a living, his sensi-tivity to the ethos of communal bitterness and suspicion that was building up, the flaring up of violence and his final disillusion-ment with human beings who, he realises, no longer hesitate to stoop to any level of bestiality. By separating people into groups and imposing upon them singular identities of class, creed, and religion that they must henceforth bear as their “destiny” [Sen 2006: xiv], humans hone their skill to remain disunited and hate-filled. They are no longer “human beings” but become merely “miniaturised” [Sen 2006: xiii] categories called Hindus and Muslims, conveniently forgetting the lessons of love and charity contained in the religions they are ready to kill for. The poet decides to search for Rahimuddin Choudhury and his wife Amina because the letters convey the tinge hope of their meeting soon. The poet is able to locate the address written on the letters. He tries to elicit information from the locals: I asked them about Rahimuddin. One of them knew Rahim and Ami-na…. He said, ‘I have heard that he is in Pakistan, but that Amina didi may not be alive. One day, at midnight, the house was locked from outside and set on fire. We tried hard to put out the fire and rescue the refugees, but in vain… …I still had a slight doubt about Amina’s fate. If Amina had been burnt in the fire, how had their dressing table escaped from being singed by it! The student told me, ‘The dressing table was kept in the smaller room’. Perhaps Amina too was in the same room that night. But, where did she go after that? (p 37). Nanda is convinced that if Amina’s story gets written about in the papers, she could be found. She wraps the dressing table in cloth and keeps it in readiness for Amina to come and claim it. The story ends with an Epilogue: One day a vagrant is arrested near Howrah station carrying some paint and brushes in his bag. When asked his name, he says “A human being”. This is taken to be a simulation of madness and the newspapers headlines announce the next day: “A Pakistani spy arrested” (p 38).The motif of the “mirror” finds significance in the story. Since the cracked mirror distorts his face and saddens him, Nanda wants to buy a good clear mirror to reflect their reality. But soon enough the poet realises that the actual mirror is the society because when he “faces” his critics, “they [hold] up before me an image of myself in the mirror of their criticism” (p 25). He wonders whether the reflection reveals shortcomings of their perception or his. Where do the distortions lie, in the society or in his mind? After posing happily before the clear mirror of the dressing table, when Nanda discovers the story of Amina hidden in its recesses, she becomes conscious of the other woman’s un-happy face clouding the clarity of the mirror. The thought that the woman might have also spent some happy hours before the mirror, troubles Nanda. Thus the mirror tells the tragic story of another unhappy couple and the dressing table becomes the sym-bol of Amina’s shattered life. Nanda prefers not to be the usurper of Amina’s dreams and does not wish to use the dressing table any more. The poet plans to look for Rahim and Amina. In his search, it is the reflection of humanity that he sees in the clear glass of the social mirror. The mirror of the society reveals bitter truths about human nature and makes manifest the ugly distortions of the human mind and the futility of perpetuating divisions among people on the basis of religion and creed. The poet realises that while the partitions in the mind persist, the breaches in the society can never be healed. Multifaceted GeniusThough acclaimed as a composer and music director extraordi-naire, Salil Choudhury’s multifaceted genius has not received the attention it deserves. He is a poet, lyricist, short story writer, and a social activist of unparalleled calibre.4 Not surprisingly in a land which is yet to fully learn to appreciate its historical docu-ments or edifices of culture, much of Choudhury’s written work has disappeared. But the few compositions that are available and/or recoverable confirm political and social sensitivity of a rare quality. Born on November 19, 1923 in a village called Sonarpur, Bengal, he grew up in a musical atmosphere and absorbed it. His father, a doctor by profession, was a music lover as was his elder brother Nikhil who had his own orchestra called Milan Parishad. There was a good collection of gramophone records at home of Indian and western classical music. Choudhury’s childhood was spent in the tea gardens of Assam where he had the opportunity to not only absorb folk rhythms, but observe life of the workers from close quarters. He came to Calcutta for further studies when political unrest was at its height. The international arena was clouded by the second world war and at home, the anti-British movement of the Indian National Congress was gaining momentum. The left-oriented anti-fascist movement had also gained ground. The popular platform for the left-oriented intellectuals evolved as the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) which Choudhury promptly joined. This provided the contact with powerful and gifted leftist ideologues like Binoy Ray, Sudhi Pradhan, Jyotirindra Moitra, Hemanga Biswas, Haripada Kushari among others. Choudhury started writing songs of protest against different kinds of social oppression and injustice and thus created what can surely be considered his second most enduring contribution to Bengali literature and culture, a genre of agitprop songs as “Ganasangeet” or people’s songs of protest and activism.Continuing the tradition of politically aware exhortatory songs of Mukundodas, D L Roy, Rabindranath and Kasi Nasrul Islam, Choudhury has composed songs that urge a spirit of solidarityand strengthen the will to resist. Beginning with the protest against faux trials of the freedom fighters by the English judges – ‘Bicharpoti

“Subversive and explosive lyrics combined with strongly accentuated rhythms and vigorous melodies”. Choudhury is equally powerful with softer emotive lyrics as endorsed by unforgettable songs like ‘Runner’, ‘Palkir gaan’ (song of the Palanquin) or ‘Kono ek gayer bodhu’ (A Village Housewife).5

SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 10, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly76and “a hearth” (p 155). Most houses were made of bamboo with tin or asbestos roof, though theirs was made of bricks and hence referred to as “the rich people’s house”, ‘boroloker bari’ (p 156). The colony was infested with “ghosts”, jackals and thieves who were chased away with gusto beyond its “borders”. Graduallythrough the years, the process of settling-in was con-solidated and “the space became a place, a certain relational and contextual affair endowed with a complex phenomenological quality” (p 156).The inhabitants of Netaji Nagar did not shy away from politics. They were naturally drawn to the ideology of resistance, perhaps because the spirit of struggle both shaped and provided the im-petus to their lives. In the 1950s, theIPTAfound many sympa-thisers from the community and during the disturbed decades of the 1970s, the colony looked rather like a combat sone where “encounters” happened between the alleged “Naxals” and the police. Slowly, the cultures the refugees created in their relocat-ed milieu became the necessary prerequisite for self-recognition and survival.As Ranabir Samaddar writes in the ‘Introduction’ to the anthology of essays on the subject (2003), ever since it attained independence in 1947, India has played host to numerous com-munities fleeing persecution and violence. The Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 saw one of the largest forced dislocations of people and created refugees numbering in the millions. Since then, India has offered shelter to diverse refugee communities including those from Tibet, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan). While India has a reasonably good record of providing protection and hospitality to refugees, according to Samaddar, the story of pro-viding care has invariably been one of limiting care. It reveals the power of the state to decide whom to extend hospitality to and whom to deny it to. Thus, the issue of affording asylum becomes one of exercising power on the part of India’s political establish-ment. Samaddar explains that providing protection and humani-tarian assistance to those seeking refuge should not be a question of dispensing kindness. What is required in place of a regime of charity is a regime of rights.Ray recalls living at the margins of the society – but as an adult, from a contemporary perspective of a social scientist, though still self-consciously sensitive about those social margins and divisions. Therefore, notwithstanding the overt humour that pervades his writing (a sense of humour must have made the deprivations of life bearable), palpable are the subliminal tensions of witnessing and experiencing the rebuilding of lives from scratch, of finding new livelihood, of facing conflicts and negotiations in transforming new uncomfortable surroundings and settlements into home or ‘basha’, a nest. The notion of liveli-hood carries with it the idea of economic, educational and social capital that the refugees try to secure and maximise in order to plan for the future. The refugees strived to avail themselves of a modicum of these. A noteworthy feature in Ray’s article is his refusal to deal perpetually on the aspects of “violence” and allow “victimhood” to overpower the resilience of the “refugees” who do not remain passive recipients of violence and cause-effect syndrome but acquire “agency” to change not only themselves but also the receiving society. The process of rebuilding lives, the emergence of a more confident ‘bhadra mahila’ woman as the homemaker, as both the nurturing “mother” and the “bread-winning” sister are accorded deservedly greater attention by Ray. Emphasising the dynamic nature of the entire process, he describes the em-pirical realities involved when changes in life course have to be accepted as part of a larger socio-political framework that holds opportunities as well as constraints. Sharing his views on “refu-geeness”, Ray says (in an email) that “the emphasis on humdrum is important to take one away from the rather hackneyed meta-phorics of Partition as eternal ‘unhoming’. In a very tenuous and I think unsuccessful way, I tried to find bridgeheads between the facticity of everyday life and the way a populace is governed and a community shapes up.”As a preamble, Ray clarifies in ‘Growing Up Refugee’: This article presents an overlay of two narratives: the story of my gro-wing up as a refugee boy and the story of the locality’s own growth from a piece of waste land outside Calcutta to what it is now, a fully integrated part of Calcutta’s postcolonial landscape….(p 154)Using an “anecdotal approach” (p 154), the memoir narrates “micro-histories” of how “belonging and locality shaped the iden-tities of the inhabitants of this refugee colony over the last five decades” (p 154). Focusing on locality – specifically, on the colony of Partition refugees that developed near Calcutta – rather than on the event of Partition, Ray successfully combines social and political analysis with the narrative style of writing. Explaining the inclusion of a similar article by Manas Ray (who did not write in Hindi) in the special issue on ‘Partition and After’ of the Delhi journal Hindi: Language, Discourse, Writing, the editor Ashok Bajpai says that the value of the piece lies in its shifting the focus from the violence of the Partition to its aftermath and the ethno-graphy of “locality” (2000-01, p v). Gradually Netaji Nagar changed. The change from the shabby tenement to classy bungalows with cars parked under the awning also signified a transcendence of the “refugeeness” or the state of being homeless or in search of protection. The outward signs sug-gested “integration” into the bhadralokstatus. At least, the stri-ving after a modicum of economic, educational and social capital seemed to have borne fruit. Yet, even in 2004, the assimilation of the refugee does not appear to have been total. Revealing an emotional ache, Ray writes:…Written in it is the lost project of the Bengali bhadralok’s modernity that he had once framed for himself and to which he is umbilically at-tached. In this context, the history of the uprooted, who had once staked their claim for the city’s bhadralokdom they thought they rightfully de-served but were deprived of, acquires a special poignancy….(p 177).No matter how much pain may emerge from the churning, from time to time the sediments of memory have got to be shifted and the reserves of the mind must be explored. To re-live the past is for Ray, as it is for all of us, a way to adjust with the present. He writes: I aspire to representational stability, needing for my own emplace-ment to bridge my present with the past of Netaji Nagar. …The de-sire to understand is an attempt to understand what is lost (p 177).
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 10, 200877In documenting the memories of the past, Ray contributes to-wards a valuable archive – tracing a landscape of the mind – which could serve as a road map for future scholarship on the subject. 4 HeleneCixousThe Partition of India is an emotional subject in the subcontinent even for the younger generations who have not witnessed its trauma. Though relatively few narratives and documents, in print or visual medium, appeared in the decades that immediately followed the grisly massacres and only in the late 1980s did the dam of silence appear to burst, whatever has ever been written, read or shown registered a visceral impact. But being too close to history is not only painful, there is also the possibility of becom-ing limited by a myopic perspective. It is interesting to consider historically distanced representations of an event. On such representation is a fascinating play produced in 1987 that has as its theme the Partition of India and which dramatises the problems of colonialism, the liberation of India, and non- violence.7 The play written by Helene Cixous titled L’Indiade ou l’lnde de leurs rêves – (‘The Indiade’ or ‘India of Their Dreams’) was produced by Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil. The reason for Cixous’ focus on a disturbing chapter of Indian history derives from her philosophy of life and culture. In her seminal article ‘From the Scene of History: Pathway of Writing’, Cixous explains the way the events of her life shaped her thoughts and inspired her writing. She feels that the untimely death of her father when she was eleven, the imperialist adventures of France in Algeria, and the multicultural ethos of France that she moved into are some of the significant factors responsible for her involvement with the question of cultural identity and the self. Violence and racism that she expe-rienced in the Algeria of the 1930s where she was born as a French Jew intensified her sense of alienation because she was always the “other” for the French and the Arabs. Over the years her antipathy for all forms of colonisation and authoritarianism intensified. Colo-nial history interested her and opened up the enormous possibili-ties of exploring “alterity” and the dark side of human “ruthless-ness”. Thus her exile, her alien status, the war, acts of imperialism, and “the phantom memory of peace, mourning and pain” are ma-jor concerns that preoccupy her and characterise her writing.Through the literary text Cixous hopes to discover the non-coercive and liberating strategies of deconstructing oppressive structures of language and meaning. She continuously identi-fies in language the aspects of the “apartheid” and “totalitaria-nism”, seeking through it “both compensation and means of liv-ing – through inscribing – loss” because everything can get lost except words. Writing for her becomes an act of deliverance and emancipation, of safeguarding life. Her intention is not to mourn the past with its pain and loss, but to become the “prophet of the present”. Since the celebration of the present involves the “re-membrance of hell which for some is nothing but the present,” Cixous decides to undergo “the act of remembering all those who abide in hell”, especially the experiences yet unknown to her. To “live as the other” is vital to her and so the hitherto unshared experience of “a living hell” is what she wishes to recreate. As Julia Dobson (2002) explains in a persuasive thesis, notions of theatre and theatricality occupy a crucial position in Cixousian aesthetic and political project to celebrate difference. The central role of the theatre in aesthetics is its status as the site par exce-llence of alterity, a textual and physical space in which writer, actor and spectator can engage in an unproblematic relationship to the other (p 49). Dobson shows how Cixous’ theoretical thought, in particular the key concept of ‘écriture feminine’, has always depended on metaphors of performance and performativity for its conceptual energy. Tracing this fluid interchange between theatre as metaphor and practice allows Dobson to argue that theatre and philosophy in Cixous’ œuvre (as Deleuze and Guattarialso recognise) are, and always have been, interdependent.Cixous’ engagement with lived history to explore alterity and “otherness” urged her to write three plays on south Asian sub-jects:La Prise de l’Ecole de Madhubai; L’Histoire Terrible Mais In-achevée de Norodom Sihanouk Roi du Cambodge; andL’Indiade ou L’Inde de Leurs Rêves.8In an interview with Catherine Anne Franke, Cixous explains that while Shakespeare inspired all the plays, the Iliad and the Bible held particular appeal in conceiving L’Indiade. Through these texts Cixous aspires to a new kind of theatre of epic breadth. Each is conceived in spectacular dimen-sions to depict a spatio-temporal panorama with a huge cast of characters. As the great actors play out their drama, the smaller figures are seen to lead their own lives, commenting on the great, and suffering from their follies. As she says in the interview (p 154), “The fragility of life and of goodness, along with the difficulty of maintaining fidelity in life”, becomes the dialectical issue to be pondered upon. “I need heaven for theatre to exist, and for the terrestrial scene to be reflected in the celestial” (p 247). So begins Cixous’ essay Écrits sur le Theaterthat forms a sequel toL’Indiade. “I was not born a playwright,” she says with the realisation that to do thea-tre there must be “less and less of me, more and more of you” (p 248). This apprenticeship comprehends the “inside of being”, the inner space of mythologies and suppressed knowledge. The immense panorama that she creates through her play, stretching to the horizon and beyond the “clouds, sky, sun of the human heart,” puts the spectator at the centre of a vision of lived history on the scale of the sacred. Indeed, Cixous’ definition of theatre is the space where the individual experiences human existence “as an atom in space, as a moment of Time, as a question in the millennial dialogue between man and the gods” (p 248). Thus, the individual inTheIndiade “is not without the stars” (p 248); it is through one’s rapport with the stars, the celestial authority, that one can grasp the extent of the terrestrial dimension of hu-man life. Because the souls of Cixous-ian ‘heroes’ are cut from the stuff of myth, she takes upon herself the task of defining their superhuman tensions. She can no longer remain an observer of history but must become involved in the unfolding text and inter-pret the dreams and destinies of her characters.“I need the theatre to tell me its stories as legends,” Cixous ays (Ecrits: p 257) and to bridge the past and history in the making, invokes India in the mythical present: “in the middle of the 20th century there lived in India beings belonging to spiritual epochs which, for us, ended centuries and millennia ago” (1987: p 14). The distance that separates these two realities becomes a voyage for her as she prepares to leave herself behind in order to reach

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